Elio Delgado Legon
HAVANATIMES — In a piece published by Havana Times in September of 2014, I wrote about my visit to Santiago de Chile in 1973 and how the studies I was to pursue at university were interrupted by the coup led by Augusto Pinochet.
I wasn’t able to do much work in the little over three months I spent in Chile, beyond preparing for the course and looking for reference materials at the library of the journalism school.
One Sunday in August, two of the other students who had taken different courses and I were invited by the dean of the humanities faculty, a man surnamed Briones, to go to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar, places of extraordinary beauty (even in the midst of winter).
We left Santiago at around nine in the morning in the dean’s car (the dean acted as our tour guide). We made our first stop at the valley of Curacavi, with its vast vineyards. There, we went into a kind of outdoor cafe where they sell one of the most popular drinks in the region: the chicha of Curacavi (a specially fermented grape juice) It was a truly delicious experience we had before continuing on our way to Valparaiso.
During this journey, we had to go through a 2,886-meter-long mountain tunnel named Lo Prado, a passage that saves travelers dozens of miles.
In Valparaiso, we strolled around town to get to know the city and then continued on our way to Viña del Mar. It must be a beautiful place in summer, but, in the deep of winter, it looked like a ghost town, bathed by the waves of the Pacific (which wasn’t too peaceful at the time).
As it was already lunch time when we got to Viña del Mar, we headed straight for a restaurant located on the shore, such that one has the impression one is surrounded by the sea.
There, I would eat a mollusk known as “Loco”, with the scientific name of Concholeta concholeta, for the first and last time.
Our return trip to Santiago was quicker, as we made no stops. Briones spoke of travelling to Isla Negra, to see Neruda’s house, but he feared reaching Santiago by night and we didn’t go.
Almost at nightfall, before we entered the city, an army patrol car stopped us. They were searching all vehicles and their occupants in search of weapons. All cars entering the city were searched for weapons at the time, as were important workplaces and industries. They were preparing the fascist coup that, a few days later, put an end to Salvador Allende’s progressive government and plunged Chile into a long night of horrible crimes that lasted 17 years.
The trip to Viña del Mar in the winter didn’t leave me with many memories, but I will never be able to forget the “Loco” and the chicha of Curacavi.